Mencken played here


Renovated Catonsville cottage once echoed to the sound of Baltimore's sage tinkling the keys

December 21, 2007|By Marie Gullard | Marie Gullard,Special to The Sun

Thirteen years ago Lou Gibson drove up from her Northern Virginia home to Plymouth Wallpaper in historic Catonsville. She liked what she saw, both in the large wallpaper outlet and along the winding, tree-lined streets off Frederick Road.

It wasn't long after the visit that a friend recommended a real estate agent in the area.

Gibson and her partner, Rick Maas, would soon become the fourth owners of a two-story cottage of cedar siding with a gently pitched roof.

Built in 1916 by Victor G. Bloede, president of Patapsco Electric & Manufacturing Co. of Ellicott City and founder of the Avalon Water Works in the same area, the cottage was a gift to his daughter, Marie, and her husband, William Woollcott.

Woollcott, brother to the writer Alexander Woollcott, and his wife raised four daughters in the cottage. The third girl, Barbara, would write a book published in 1944 titled None But a Mule, a chronicle of growing up in the cottage and about her parents' friends.

Certain architectural aspects of the 2,800-square-foot home are decidedly odd.

"I liked the house immediately when I saw the goofy angle of the brick fireplace," said Maas, a sculptor who at the time of the purchase worked in orthotics and prosthetics in Laurel.

The fireplace, one of four working hearths in the cottage, sits on a diagonal wall at the far west side of the living room.

Gibson, on the other hand, was attracted to the cottage's many multipaned casement windows and French doors. But, she notes, "We never actually cleaned them all at one time."

The couple paid $225,000 for the cottage and its 1.6-acre lot. The original structure housed a living room, dining room, three bedrooms, two bathrooms and a basement crawl space. It also had upper and lower screened-in porches in the back. A three-story addition, built in the mid-1940s, houses a two-car garage, library, master bedroom suite and bathroom.

There were problems, however. The roof leaked and the kitchen ceiling was beginning to sag.

"The day I lost my job, I came home with a sledge hammer and got to work on the [kitchen] ceiling," Maas remembered of a project that took 18 months to complete.

The couple spent $50,000 on work that included repairing the roof, the home's foundation and its ceiling. They also remodeled the kitchen. Maas did most of the work himself, calling the finished project "my biggest and most profitable sculpture."

Today the home's interior looks as though it jumped from the pages of a magazine. Gibson did all of the decorating herself in - naturally - a cottage theme. Past the front door, a combined living and dining room is furnished in muted pastels against walls of soft blue with cream trim.

A semi-circular chaise lounge, upholstered in ruffled English pink floral linen, dominates the space. A drum table and roll-top desk have been painted white with added distressing. Gilt framed mirrors, vases of dried hydrangea, and accent lamps with linen shades complete the look.

By contrast, the library features walls clad in dark paneling and comfy pub-style furniture.

Of particular pride to Maas is a remodeled kitchen with a tin ceiling he installed, and a floor of thin planked oak painted in a pale green checkerboard effect.

The upstairs screened-in porch, where Barbara Woollcott recalls sleeping with her sisters as a child, now serves as Maas' studio. The master bedroom on the second floor of the addition enjoys a working fireplace.

The cottage was recently featured on Home & Garden Television in a segment entitled "If Walls Could Talk." It was revealed that many literary luminaries of the 1920s and 1930s often visited.

Barbara Woollcott mentions the fact in her book, noting, "Father was a member of the Saturday Night Club, whose main activities were beer and music. They had a fairly sizable orchestra, and we kids used to love to go around setting up the music stands. ... "

She continues, " ... Henry [H.L.] Mencken [played] the piano [and] always counted aloud to keep the rest of the orchestra in time."

That just adds to the charm, Maas said. "As you live in this house, you realize how well designed it was. We love it - and its history."

Have you found your dream home? Tell us about it. Write to Dream Home, Real Estate Editor, The Sun, 501 N. Calvert St., Baltimore 21278, or e-mail us at Find our Dream Home archive at Keywords: COLUMN

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.